Wednesday , April 24 2024
"After writing two academic books about public schools, I recognized there was a need for a book that would explain these same issues to a broader audience."

Interview: Dr. Liane Brouillette, Author of ‘Help Your Child to Thrive: Making the Best of a Struggling Public Education System’

Liane 3_09aOver the last two decades, Dr. Liane Brouillette has studied the factors that help students succeed at school. Despite the media focus on test scores, success in life turns out to have less to do with grades and scores than with motivation, social skills, and the ability to see a task through to the end. In her new book for parents Dr. Brouillette explains that nightly tutoring and volunteering at school are not the most effective ways prepare a child to succeed. Children benefit more when parents stimulate their intellectual curiosity, solve problems together and model healthy values. It is the conversations we have with children, the activities we undertake together, that count most.

Congratulations on the release of your book, Help Your Child to Thrive: Making the Best of a Struggling Public Education System. Tell us about it.

Recently, there have been a number of books, such as How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough and The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got that Way by Amanda Ripley, that talk about the factors that make for school success. But these books look at the problem from an institutional viewpoint. These books critique U.S. schools and point out the direction future school reform should take. However, most parents have limited options. Fortunately, if parents know how to make good use of their local public schools and are willing to provide the right kind of coaching at home, their children should do just fine.

Researchers like Nobel Laureate James Heckman have demonstrated persuasively that non-cognitive skills are at least as important to life success as the cognitive abilities measured by I.Q. This is true, in part, because natural ability can take a student only so far. Advanced studies are difficult. Successful students need to be able to delay gratification and carry through with a plan. help-your-child-to-thrive-book-coverHowever, it is also true that most students will not turn out to be surgeons or nuclear physicists. In most vocations, success depends at least as much on social skills and the ability to understand other people’s needs as it does on academic knowledge. This is an area left entirely to the family.

Help Your Child to Thrive points out how parents can prepare a child with the confidence, motivation and social skills needed to make the most of what the public schools have to offer, while also planning for college and beyond. This does not mean spending every night tutoring. Instead, it means reading regularly to young children, chatting while sharing chores, talking with older children about local issues and current events. Daily conversations around the dinner table (or at bedtime) about what family members did and learned that day will help motivate children without taking responsibility for achievement (and satisfaction for success) away from the child.

Each chapter focuses on how parents can help to foster a specific quality in their child, such as confidence, emotional intelligence, or wise decision-making. So parents may, if they wish, turn immediately to the topic in which they are most interested. However, the book also explains the ways in which public schools have changed in recent decades — making bullying and substance abuse more common — and how parents can inoculate their child against such threats. Therefore, parents will find it beneficial to eventually read each chapter in turn. 

What was your inspiration for it? 

After writing two academic books about public schools, I recognized there was a need for a book that would explain these same issues to a broader audience. This book would 1) help parents to understand the problems faced by school-age children and 2) show parents how to support their children in meeting these challenges.

My academic books were full of citations and academic terminology. Written primarily for professionals and graduate students, these books were sold primarily in university bookstores. In contrast, this book grew organically out of conversations with parents and students.

Who is your target audience? 

The target audience is parents of school-age children who feel that their child either is performing below her or his potential at school or is struggling with peer relationships. Although these may appear to be quite different challenges, both may be triggered negative experiences at school. The result may be a sense of discouragement, combined with uncertainty about how to improve the situation. All too often, children attribute a difficulty they are facing to a permanent personal characteristic (I just can’t…”), as opposed to looking at the situation as a problem to be solved. Help Your Child to Thrive shows parents how help a child take a problem-solving perspective.

What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?

My schedule as a professor is very busy. Finding the time to write a non-academic book was a major challenge. 

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

I hope parents reading the book will become more confident of their ability to effectively support their child in navigating predictable academic and social challenges. Just knowing what to expect and how to prepare their child can make parents more effective and their child more successful. 

Did your book require a lot of research?

Since I am an educational researcher by profession, the research was less of a challenge than explaining complex developmental challenges without resorting to academic language that might be off-putting to people outside academia. 

What was your publishing process like?

I decided to self-publish because the book did not fit easily into either the academic or the self-help category.  

What has writing taught you?

Writing is a way to communicate on a deeper level than is usually possible in face-to-face conversation. So, it helps the author to think more deeply, as well.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.

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